UNC-Chapel Hill students working on building a garden at Lenora B. Smith Elementary School.
More than 80 students who participated in Hillel’s immersive experience in Miami in January received an orientation about the Liberty City and Overtown neighborhoods in which they would be volunteering from officials of The Advocacy Committee of Liberty City Youth (TACOLCY) Belafonte Center, a youth service agency offering diversified services to youth ages 4 to 21.
TACOLCY provided a unique and in-depth overview of the area because of its long history of independent and collaborative community outreach with youth, their families, schools, and other agencies, around low-income community issues and in the underserved minority community of Liberty City/Model City. TACOLCY reaches over 2,000 children, youth and families annually, and has served over 1 million in its 43 years of work.
“I am always appreciative of the opportunity to share with others about the work we do at TACOLCY,” explained CEO Alison Austin. “It is particularly exciting when I get to impart and share with groups like Hillel because there is an authenticity about giving back and I believe we have an obligation to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.”
The group was also addressed by TACOLCY CPO Jacqueline Clenance and Dr. Henry Crawford, principal of Martin Luther King Primary, a pilot school for an early learning initiative whose student body is made up entirely of four-year-olds.
In addition to learning about education in Miami, Hillel students were introduced to several signature programs and services offered at TACOLCY, its celebrated CDF Freedom School, and some of the biggest needs and challenges facing the public education system today. Students also participated in cheers and chants with scholars from TACOLCY’s CDF Freedom School.
The TACOLCY visit framed Hillel’s week-long immersive experience in Miami, a joint program with the national service agency City Year. The trip was made possible, in part, by a grant from Repair the World.
The Hillel volunteers said they were very excited about the rest of their trip after visiting TACOLCY. “I’m really excited to end my break this way because I love volunteering and especially with kids. This was especially refreshing and energetic. The kids were really cute and I expected them to be shy but they really did their thing,” said 20-year-old Haley Sklut, a sophomore journalism major at UNC Chapel Hill.
Alex Simson, a 20-year-old junior Human Development and Education major at Cornell University, agreed: “This presentation was good for me because as someone interested in education and making an impact on the school environment, I love to hear how people already in the field implement programs to do that. Getting to see the kids at TACOLCY come up front is the flesh and blood of the school system and what it represents.”
“I always think of TACOLCY when groups want to find out more about how our community reaches youth in Liberty City,” said Lori Drutz, director of the Jewish Volunteer Center at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “When this Hillel group wanted to learn more about the needs of our education system in Liberty City and Overtown, I thought it was a good fit.”